I headed to the backstage area as Aimee Simone and the chorus dancers were making their way out front to make the customers feel very special. I didn’t see Rachel come out with the rest of the girls, and it stood to reason that one of Tempeste’s people let her know that I was there.
Rachel was one of the few people that I could say that I trusted absolutely. Her and Calliope, ain’t I just the lucky one? She had come to the attention of White Rabbit, leader of the Resistance in New York, in the course of his trying to move some materiel through Finnegan Family controlled wharves. She had pulled the headman’s bacon out of the fire, and he had asked me to look into her. Despite being a wizard, I find myself more often useful to the Resistance as an investigator, making sure no spies get too close to the operation. Hence my codename: Quisitor.
In the end, it took all of my skills to figure out her history on Earth. My investigation revealed that she was an illegal alien of the most literal variety, a succubus who had not been summoned by an Imperial sorcerer or pressed into the Empire’s Service. A French magician who had actually wanted the most powerful of the Destroyers had summoned her soon after the Resurgence. By dint of a mistranslated rune, he ended up with the youngest of the Tempters for a very brief period. She escaped when an artillery shell destroyed the circle into which she was summoned, along with the house, and managed to avoid the armies then marching across France. She eventually made her way to New York and across my path. There was nothing unresolved in her history to make me suspicious. Since then, we’d been working together as cell. Rachel used the codename Lamb.
That night, I needed her for her expertise. She worked a cycle of clubs in the city. Some nights she worked as Rachel, others Rachelle, yet others as Raquel. The pay she got covered her bills, but it was the people she met that made up for the other coin she needed. With an aura that would catch the attention of any bored apprentice stuck doing screenings at the precinct houses, she needed something better than cash to buy influence to get out of the pen fast. She did that by staying in the know of what was going on in mob land. She used different names to work all of the clubs that were patronized by the crème de la crème of the underworld. She always had the low down on what was happening among the Finnegan, Rinaldi, and Ambrosi families.
I worked my way back to the dressing rooms through the aisles of props and scenes. Rachel was still removing the last of the heavy stage makeup she wore for the number. Without the makeup, she looked as if she couldn’t be more than sixteen. Then again, she would have looked sixteen when she was first summoned eight years before. Hers was hardly the first image that came to mind with the word “succubus”, but I figured that there were guys who get hooked hard on the jailbait. I always found it difficult to describe Rachel. She seemed perfectly at home backstage at a nightclub, but she also came off as sweet as a schoolgirl. Her eyes and hair were dark, but in ways that seemed to change from moment to moment. She may have been small, no more than five-two, but she can put on attitudes that make her seem to tower over those she confronts.
She saw me approach in her mirror.
“Hey, Sam. What brings you here?”
“I need a reason?”
“To see me? No. To get into hock with Tempeste to see me? Damn straight.”
“I need to know about what went on with regard to Allison Tierney a couple of weeks ago.”
“That was some ugly business, but why are you asking? Everyone seems to think that it was all over when Victor died.”
“Let’s just say that dead isn’t what it used to be, and that Allison is still in trouble.”
“Allison? Is she alive?”
“No, she’s a ghost, and she is still being hunted.”
Every last bit of the girlie act Rachel concealed herself with left at the mention of Sylvio’s name. In its place was an ancient rage.
“You’re telling me that he hasn’t made his date with my sisters?”
“No, he ain’t burning yet.”
She looked me square in the eye.
“So what do you need to know?”
“I need details on what Victor’s plans were for killing Sylvio.”
“Alright,” she said, “you know that Sylvio was a made man and that Victor wasn’t”
“I’m with you there. Ambrosi had to kill Victor for offing Sylvio.”
“Correct, but he didn’t. At least not right away.”
“A couple of days after Sylvio killed Allison, Victor went to Ambrosi to ask for vengeance. Everyone was surprised that Ambrosi agreed.”
“Was there any word as to why Ambrosi gave his permission?”
“The story goes that since Allison was Victor’s fiancée, Sylvio had gone way out of bounds when he,” Rachel took a breath to recollect herself, “did what he did.”
“Did that explanation fly?”
“It was the Boss’s word, and no one made any loud noises in complaint.”
“And the quiet noises?”
“The quiet noises were that it was the first that anyone had heard about their engagement.”
“No one knew about their engagement?”
“None of Ambrosi’s boys knew. The girls at the club knew, but that type of thing stays backstage.”
“Take a look at the girls out there, Sam. Half of them are hitched or have steady fellas, but you won’t see one ring in the lot of them. Guys are a lot more generous with an available lady than with someone’s frau.”
“So Ambrosi’s soldiers thought that hitting Sylvio for something that he didn’t know about was a raw deal?”
“Right in one.”
I sat down on the edge of her dressing table, and lit cigarettes for the pair of us.
“So what was the real reason Ambrosi gave the OK for the bump off?”
“Whatever it was, is, it was something that Ambrosi kept it real close to the vest. Bloody Giuliano probably knows, but then again, he was the one personally making it clear that asking was not the healthy option.”
“So why did Ambrosi change the tune? Why did he blow Victor sky high?”
“If I had to guess, and a guess is all it is, I’d say that Victor didn’t follow through on his end of whatever deal they had.”
“Was Victor spreading stories?”
“No, if anything, Victor wanted to pull a fade and blow town.”
“Heh, instead he blew up.”
Rachel leaned in and lowered her voice to an even more confidential level.
“Well, let me show you why you come to me: Victor was already dead when the car blew.”
My train of thought came to a screeching halt at that.
“How do I know or how did he die?”
“Tell me both.”
“That’s easy enough to do, I know because one of the guys who was there when Victor died considered it a sweet nothing to whisper in my ear. Hardly my idea of a romantic notion.”
“So what happened?”
“I giggled like a dumb little girl and acted impressed.”
I rolled my eyes at her joke.
“You know what I meant.”
“I know. Anyway, my fella-of-the-moment dragged in Victor for a conversation with Bloody Giuliano. I asked him what the conversation was about, but the only thing he could tell me is that it was too private for him to have been in the room. About a half hour later, Giuliano heads out of the warehouse in a hurry, not saying boo to anyone. My date for the evening looked in on Victor and saw that his head wasn’t sitting right. Something about it being backwards. Anyway, Giuliano comes back barking orders to get the body loaded into a car. Later that night, boom goes Victor.”
“So Giuliano messed up the interrogation, didn’t get the information, then staged the car bomb to at least make it look like his boss wanted Victor dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on the blower to Ambrosi while he had stepped out.”
“That’s my impression.”
I took a draw on my neglected cigarette.
“Victor had something,” I thought out loud.
“Excuse me?” asked Rachel.
“Sorry, putting things together. Victor must have had something as opposed to just knowing it. If it was a matter of something Victor knew, then they could have just bumped him off then and there. If they were having a face to face, then it would mean that he knew something that they didn’t, and I can’t see what it would be other than he had something hidden somewhere.”
“I can’t say I see anything wrong with that. Any ideas as to what Victor had?”
“That’s the rub, but I have an idea. Do you have any notions as to why Ambrosi would have a problem with a monster hunter?”
“Simple, Ambrosi sells protection to the supernaturals in his territory. If the guy makes a move on someone in the neighborhood, Ambrosi has to make good on the policy.”
I had to admit that was a possibility. Before I could ask her another question, I heard a voice by the dressing room door.
“Rachel?” It was Samira. “Sir Arvin has arrived, and Lady Tempeste asks that you attend to him, please.”
“I’ll be right out,” Rachel answered. She then turned to me.
“I don’t need to tell you to be careful?”
“Aren’t I always?”
She reached up and touched the shiner.
“Yeah, but you could do it better.”
She gave me a wink and headed out to the club floor.
Sir Arvin wasn’t going to know what hit him.